There's little gray room when it comes to recording a Christian rock album. You either keep things sacred by aiming your songs directly at a churchgoing audience, or you move over to secular territory and ditch the "Christian" tag altogether. Needtobreathe, like Switchfoot and grunge-era Jars of Clay, are one of the only bands with a foothold on both sides of the sacred/secular divide, and The Reckoning takes the best from both camps. On one hand, these 14 tracks are full of Bible allusions and parable-like lyrics. Even the title itself, which hints at Judgment Day, has a Christian bent. At the same time, the band's music -- a mix of heartland rock & roll and chest-thumping, rafter-reaching uplift -- is more indebted to rock than anything else, and The Reckoning builds upon the raw, rootsy sound that The Outsiders helped introduce, with the banjo often taking as much airtime as the electric guitar. Bear Rinehart sings like Will Hoge, growling his melodies in a husky baritone and hitting the high notes like they're punching bags. Whenever his bandmates join in, they stack their harmonies three voices deep. Some of the louder songs are almost too passionate for their own good -- there's a fine line between a heartfelt epic and over-sentimental stadium schlock -- but the guys err on the side of caution, stripping songs like "A Place Only You Can Go" down to their bare essentials and avoiding most of the pitfalls that plague people who make "big" music. That's what that The Reckoning is, though -- big music -- and Needtobreathe have the balls and brawn to pull it off well.
The Reckoning Review
by Andrew Leahey